With the 2019 season serving as the 50th anniversary of Richard Childress Racing, we plan to dip into the archives to present the stories of iconic moments, race wins, championships and much more as part of our weekly Throwback Thursday series.
This weekend NASCAR heads to the Joliet, Illinois area for Cup and Xfinity Series action at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway. When NASCAR first made the trip to the Windy City in 2001, Richard Childress Racing showed up looking to put a Chevrolet in the newly opened Victory Lane.
The series had just come off a dramatic race at Daytona International Speedway, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. delivered an emotional win in the first Cup race at the track since the untimely death of RCR driver Dale Earnhardt.
The first race on the new track was the Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) event on Saturday, in which RCR driver Mike Skinner finished second to race winner Jimmie Johnson. For Sunday’s race, Kevin Harvick led the RCR charge starting sixth, Skinner started seventh and Jeff Green rolled off 29th in the No. 30 Chevrolet. RCR had just announced the day before Sunday’s race that Green would drive the No. 30 full-time starting with the 2002 season.
When the initial green flag flew on the inaugural Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, current spotter for Austin Dillon, Andy Houston, nearly caused a pile-up when his No. 96 would not get going on the front straightway. As the field made evasive maneuvers to get by Houston on the opening lap, Harvick quickly worked his way to third while Skinner was following in his tracks.
Skinner’s day came to a hard end early, when the No. 31 Chevrolet cut a right front tire and slammed the outside wall on Lap 23 in a fiery incident. It was Skinner’s second incident of the weekend, as he wrecked his primary car during practice on Friday.
Team owner Richard Childress told NBC that Skinner was banged up in the incident and would be taken to the local hospital for further evaluation on his neck and leg after he was knocked out during the wreck.
After Skinner’s incident, Harvick was able to take the lead for the first time of the day getting by Ricky Rudd on the ensuing restart. A slow pit stop mired Harvick mid-pack after a competition caution, but the driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet made dramatic moves to work his way back to the front of the field.
However, it was not until Lap 138 until Harvick took control of the race once again. Keeping the No. 29 Chevrolet out front for much of the second half of the race, Harvick was forced to deal with a late-race restart when the No. 20 of Tony Stewart got into the wall with eight laps to go.
Restarting the race with five laps to go and Robert Pressley on his back bumper, Harvick drove away to win by 0.649 seconds. In the end, Harvick would lead five times for a total of 113 laps, including the final 26 circuits.
The victory in the inaugural Chicagoland Speedway event was the second for Harvick during the 2001 season, following his dramatic and emotion win at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.
“Kevin done a great job all day,” Childress told NBC after the win. “The pit crew was on it. These guys work hard. It just feels great to win right now. Dale Jr.’s win last week (at Daytona) helped all of us, helped everybody. Just so proud of him.”
As the team celebrated on pit road, Harvick looped the white No. 29 Chevrolet around and did a backward ‘Polish Victory Lap’ to acknowledge those in the grandstands and hold three fingers out the window to salute Earnhardt before smoking the tires along the frontstretch.
“These GM Goodwrench guys, they did a heck of a job in the pits,” Harvick said after dousing the team with orange juice. “Kevin Hamlin (crew chief) had a great pit strategy, but I’ll tell you who we owe this to, we owe this to Todd Barrier and Jeff Green and the (No. 30) guys. They came up here and tested and that’s what we did both days. Those multi-car team is paying off. I hope Mike Skinner is OK.
“Last restarts with under 10 (laps) to go are nerve-wracking but we have good (gear) ratios in this thing and the motor shop did a heck of a job and we got up to speed quickly,” he said.
“This is awesome. This year is all for Dale Earnhardt and winning races for him, it’s pretty special,” said Harvick. “This means a lot. When you’re stuck on your first win everyone says, ‘Well, he’s a flash in the pan.’ Well, here’s the second win and we’re going to keep going at it.”
Harvick would go on to deliver a second win for RCR at Chicagoland Speedway the following season, sweeping the first two cup events at the 1.5-mile track. The organization also has four Xfinity Series wins in Chicago, with Harvick, Johnny Sauter and Elliott Sadler delivering victories for the team. Austin Dillon scored the team’s lone NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series win at Chicagoland Speedway in 2011.